I’m married and live with my wife, Christine, in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in several universities and run my own business, I’m now a writer of fiction and director of an educational trust. (When the clamour of children, grandchildren and dogs allow.)
I try to write something most days, although I will admit to being easily side-tracked. I write in a garden shed, which serves as an office, home gym and bolt-hole.
I inherited a love of British history and historical fiction from my mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series, State of Treason and A Necessary Killing, were published in 2019. The third book, titled The Queen’s Devil, was published in the summer of 2020.
I took a short break from the 16th century and recently finished a novel based in Paris at the end of WW1. Now, it’s back to the late Tudor era and the 4th in the William Constable series.
I’m a member of the Historical Writer’s Association.
And the Society of Authors
I’m not a historian, so writing historical fiction means I have to undertake a lot of research. In fact, this takes up more time than writing. An interview with Magic of Wor(l)ds in April 2021 offers an insight into my writing and lifestyle. (Reproduced below)
Q: Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author? – I started writing books about 4 years ago when I retired from full-time work at the University of London. I had done lots of academic and business writing, but nothing creative. I joined a couple of writing workshops and soon got hooked. I started writing my first novel and finished it less than a year after retiring. It wasn’t very good, but I had learned a lot in the process of writing. The next book took longer to write and even longer to research; State of Treason, an Elizabethan spy thriller set in London in 1578. Historical fiction is my favourite genre as a reader and it had always been my intention to tackle it as an author. Now I consider myself a full-time writer, although I also have part-time work as a writing tutor and I am a director of an educational trust.
Q: Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up? – My mother encouraged me to read historical fiction. As a teenager I remember Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time and T H White’s Once and Future King as great reads. I discovered my favourite books about 20 years ago – Patrick O’Brian’s series of books on the 19th century English Navy featuring Jack Aubrey and Steven Maturin.
Q: Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why? – I suppose Patrick O’Brian would be near the top of that list as his style of writing produces such an acute sense of time and place. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us. The way an author uses language is more important to me than genre or period. Other living writers I admire are Rose Tremain, William Boyd, Tracy Chevalier and Sebastian Barry. I find it hard to pick just one of those, so I would have to invite them all to a dinner party and have a discussion around the table after priming them with plenty of good wine.
Q: If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why? – William Brown from the Just William books by Richmal Crompton. It would be an enormous cream tea and I would sit back and let William recount his adventures while making a fabulous mess with the cream and jam. I’ve rediscovered the books with my grandchildren. They make me laugh and I love Martin Jarvis’ narration from the audio books.
Q: Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing? – I write in a shed at the bottom of my garden. It’s a comfortable shed; insulated, double-glazed and heated, with an easy chair and exercise bike as well as a computer desk. All my writing is done in there now – a refuge from the demands of a busy household. Most of my productive writing is done in the morning, with afternoons and evenings normally reserved for editing and research.
Q: Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? – With historical fiction, ideas occur during research and reading about recorded events, tricky situations, traits in real characters, matters of dispute etc. Inspiration can also happen in the mst unlikely settings, such as listening to the news on the radio, or helping to homeschool during a lockdown. Often though, imagination takes hold during the act of writing or taking a short break and considering what has just been written. Inevitably, characters in the book are formed by observing those around me, but my fictional characters are composites with bits and pieces taken from several people I have envcountered. I haven’t yet based the whole character in a book on a friend or acquaintance.
Q: Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser? – I’m a mix of both. I have to start out with a guide, knowing the rough shape of the main plot and the characters, to the point where I have a structure of the action that will take place in the first dozen chapters or so. The plan loses detail beyond that, becoming fuzzier and less exact. I know that after writing 2 or 3 chapters some details will change and when I reach the half way point a lot will have altered and the ending may be unrecognizeable from the one I had when I began writing.
Q: Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)? – From my experience of talking to other writers, each will have different strengths, weaknesses and approaches to writing. Hard and fast rules simply don’t apply and even general guidance can be of limited use. However, for what it’s worth, I found professional critiques very helpful when I started writing. Family and friends will not be objective or rigorous enough in their criticism and analysis. New writers need experienced, reasoned and constructive criticism to improve.
Q: What are your futureplans as an author? – Currently, I’m writing a novel set in Paris at the end of the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was a hotbed of intrigue, spying, deals and politicking – fertile ground for a historical crime/thriller, or so I’m hoping. I will return to William Constable in the late sixteenth century before the end of this year. So far, three books in the series have been published and if all goes well, I expect it to stretch to at least six.